Surging oil prices and growing concerns about meeting targets to cut greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels have revived efforts around the world to improve energy efficiency. But perhaps nowhere is the interest greater than here in Japan.

Is a Salaryman Without a Suit Like Sushi Without the Rice? (May 20, 2005) Even though Japan is already among the most frugal countries in the world, the government recently introduced a national campaign, urging the Japanese to replace their older appliances and buy hybrid vehicles, all part of a patriotic effort to save energy and fight global warming. And big companies are jumping on the bandwagon, counting on the moves to increase sales of their latest models.

On the Matsushita appliance showroom floor these days, the numbers scream not the low, low yen prices, but the low, low kilowatt-hours.

A vacuum-insulated refrigerator, which comes with a buzzer if the door stays open more than 30 seconds, boasts that it will use 160 kilowatt-hours a year, one-eighth of that needed by standard models a decade ago. An air-conditioner with a robotic dust filter cleaner proclaims it uses 884 kilowatt-hours, less than half of what decade-old ones consumed.

“It’s like squeezing a dry towel” for the last few drips, said Katsumi Tomita, an environmental planner for the Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, maker of the Panasonic brand and known for its attention to energy efficiency. “The honest feeling of Japanese people is, ‘How can we do more?’ ”

By James Brooke

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